Development of local self governance in Sikkim.

Development of local self governance in Sikkim.
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The historical backdrop of local government in India trace back to the famous Ripon Resolution of 1882. Lord Ripon revolutionized the basic method of Local Self-government (LSG) and advocated the augmentation of local self-government primarily as a political and educational institution. His famous resolution on local self-legislature of 1882 envisaged a more extensive structure of LSG. He further wanted to set up local boards in urban and rural areas which he suggested ought to be charged with definite duties and entrusted with definite fund. However, it is important to note that, as this resolution did not emphasize the establishment of village Panchayat through the local government structure, the issue of local self-government suffered a setback with the end of the tenure of Lord Ripon as the Governor General of India.

As soon as India gained freedom from the British rule, like numerous other newly independent nations, India also undertook a massive program of bringing about socio economic transformation in the society. Mention may be made of Mahatma Gandhi who consistently adhered to the idea of establishing  a  Panchayati  Raj  in  India.  Mahatma  Gandhi‟s  dream  was  to  bring  about  democracy through people‟s participation and according to him this could be guaranteed only by way of Gram Swaraj. He wanted village republic and suggested that the administration of the affairs of the village to be run by the people themselves. The President was elected by the people and common choices would be taken unanimously by the Gram of the village. According to Gandhi the idea of village Swaraj is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its own vital requirements, and yet inter-dependent for many others in which dependence is inevitable. As far as possible, every activity will be steered on the co-operative basis and there will be no castes barriers. He told that a perfect democracy is based upon individual freedom. An individual is the architect of his own government and independence must begin at the bottom level. He visualized a form of decentralized government where each village was to be self- regulated, self- reliant and autonomous. His idea of Gram  Swaraj  or  village  Self-governance  was  to  be  the  foundation  of  India‟s  political  system

A series of Community development programme was launched on 2 Oct 1952 with an aim towards all round development of the people in rural areas and encourage the people to participate in this programme of rural reconstruction. State governments during the 1950s and 60s adopted laws to establish Panchayats at various levels. In the constitution of India, the Panchayati Raj is included in the State List of the Seventh Schedule. Local Government is a state subject figuring as list II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. Article 243 G of the Indian constitution guards the basic principle for decentralization of power to the rural Local Bodies. States have been charged with the responsibility for decentralization of powers to the Panchayats. It is important in this context to discuss the failures of the Community Development Programmes. One of the reasons of this failure was that these programmes were not attached to the people, rather people took it as a burden laid on them by the government.

A team under the leadership of Balwantrai Mehta tried to find out the causes for the failure of these programmes. After concluding its study, the committee recommended that there should be an organization at the village level, which would select the true beneficiaries and implement various government programmes and schemes. This organization would act as the representative of all the villagers and ensure the development of the village as well as participation of villagers. Many years down the line, Government of India instituted the Ashok Mehta Committee in 1977 and entrusted it with the task of reviewing the working of Panchayati system. The committee found out that Panchayati Raj is the soul of democracy and therefore it should be empowered with more power and functions. In many states Panchayats were formed after 1977, for instance, in West Bengal the Panchayats became more effective after accepting the suggestions made in the report of Ashok Mehta Committee. Around 1990s, a realization dawned that without constitutional power self- government will not be truly effective and fruitful. Therefore, the Government passed the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992, which was heralded as a major reform in local self- government in the country as it aimed at devolution of certain powers and responsibilities to the Panchayats both in terms of preparation as well as implementation of plans for socio-economic development in relation to twenty-nine subjects listed in the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.

Sikkim, the earlier Himalayan kingdom, entered into the mainstream of Indian Union in May 1975 as a 22nd state, prior to that it was under British Protectorate from 1817 to 1947. The merger of Sikkim with Indian Union has, however, brought a lot of changes in all the fields - social, political, economic and administration. The statutory panchayat in Sikkim is of recent origin but the resemblance of existing panchayat system could be traced back to the period when Bhutias and Lepchas of certain areas used to practice their own traditional tribal council or panchayat system known as Dzumsa and

Chhodu respectively. These tribal societies were accustomed to regulation of their domestic, religious, social, economic, socio-political and judicial affairs at the grass-root level through their traditional tribal councils and collective wisdom of the people in the villages. Other than the areas covered by Dzumsa and Chhodu, the State were divided into different Illakas or estates leased out to influential persons called Illakadars (chettri 2012)2. Like in other traditional society, in Sikkim too, the internal administration was feudal in character. This feudal class wielded both judicial and administrative powers within the limit of their illakas or estates. For the regulation of the intra- village affairs, the Mondals were appointed by these illakadars. The main function of the Mondals consisted of the maintenance of law and order and collection of land revenue.

With the intrusion of the British in the administration of Sikkim and later the appointment of J.C. White, the first political officer in Sikkim, a new era of administrative change began. The political officer's notification of 1906 gave the official recognition to the centuries old illaka system and power of illakadars defined. In general, all the illakadars were given the power to try petty cases of cattle trespass, petty land dispute and debt cases of value not more than Rs. 10/- with fine to the extent of Rs. 5/-. The estates were the center of internal administration and Illakadars the custodian of law and order (White: 1971)3. The system was highly feudalistic and the wishes of the people were hardly articulated. Nevertheless, in the later stages, the illakas while serving as revenue administrative units formed the basis of future panchayat bodies. Soon after the independence of India in 1947, various political parties grew up in the State. Among them, Sikkim State Congress played a significant role for the abolition of landlordism and the introduction of village panchayat at local level. Accordingly, as per the notification of 12th January 1948, the Panchayat Tribunal was to be formed in every estate consisting of a landlord and four villagers of that estate. These four villagers were to be elected by the block people. But unfortunately, in the entire Sikkim, there were

104 estates but not a single tribunal was constituted in any estate. With such developments  happening in Sikkim, the period between 1947 to 1949 was marked as a period of political turmoil.

With the signing of Indo-Sikkim Treaty on 20th March 1950, an attempt was made to provide a platform for the formation and functioning of a body which would represent the people residing in the local area. The Government notification issued on 5th August 1951 finally established Local Area Panchayat consisting of five elected members. Voting rights were provided to those above 21 years of age and residing in the local areas for at least twelve months prior to the electoral date. The five candidates receiving highest votes in order of merit would be declared elected. The members elected were to be approved by the Durbar. On receipt of approval from the Durbar the senior most Mondal was required to summon the meeting of elected bodies to elect Sarpanch and Mukhia on the basis of votes. The Durbar had maintained the reign of panchayats in its own hands through the device of various institutional and administrative controls. These panchayats actually did not operate in Lachen and Lachung, the two villages located in North District of Sikkim because most of the indigenous population boycotted the election, as they found no provision for safeguarding them.

After the failure of Local Area Panchayat, an attempt was made again to establish village panchayats by enacting Sikkim Panchayat Act, 1965. The enactment of the Sikkim Panchayat Act 1965 was another major initiative taken by the government to associate the rural people for the better implementation of Sikkim's rural development programmes. The Act, therefore, extended the panchayats role in developmental activities and also provided it with certain executive functions like the maintenance of records and the management of primary schools. Besides, the panchayats were also entrusted with some judicial authority to try some petty cases of the concerned area. The Act, however, stipulated for a single tier panchayat with block panchayat at the village level. The Block Panchayat established by this Act continued till 1982.

Sikkim enacted a new Act called Sikkim Panchayat Act 1982. The main objective behind this legislation was to remove the inherent weaknesses that existed in the Act of 1965 and also to revive the democratic process at the grass roots level. This Act was, in fact, the first major step taken by the government in the process of democratic decentralization in Sikkim after its merger. The Act, by replacing the earlier one-tier system, introduced a two-tier Panchayati raj system with Gram Panchayats at village level and Zilla Panchayats at district. The two-tier panchayati raj administration is still continuing though the Sikkim Panchayat Act 1993 which has been passed to implement some major provisions of the 73rd Amendment (Constitutional) Act, 1992. The Act makes no changes in the existing two-tier system, but rather makes an arrangement for the delegation of more powers and authorities to the panchayats according to the provisions of 73rd Amendment Act 1992.

Thus, the process of decentralization in Sikkim, like the other states of India is slow but continuous. The Government of Sikkim has formulated and implemented various policies and programmes on decentralization and good governance after its merger with India. This Act based on the 73rd Amendment Act envisages achieving the grass root democratic policies by making Panchayati Raj an institution  for  Scheduled  Castes  (SC‟s),  Scheduled  Tribes  (ST‟s)   and  women,  State  Election Commission and State Finance Commission. To constitute Panchayats in Sikkim under the 1993 Act, election was conducted for the first time in Oct 1997 and since then there has been regular elections

as per the provisions of Central Act 1993. Before this, the state witnessed elections for Panchayats in 1976, 1983, 1988. All these elections were held after the merger, several provisions were included within the Act to make local democracy more participatory like reserving 40% of the seats for women, allowing the Limboo and Tamang communities to contest the election for ST seats and extension of the reservation to Most Backward Classes (MBCs) (Chhetri, 2010). In 2012, the Sikkim Panchayat Act was amended to insert a provision for one third reservations for women in the quorum of gram and ward sabha to ensure active participation of women in all decision-making process. The reservation for elected women representative was made mandatory and the final amendment raised the reservation to 50% for women in all posts. At present, there are 185 Gram Panchayat Units and 4 Zilla Panchayats in four districts (rural development department 2018)

Local self-government in Post-Independence Period

The village Panchayats or local self-government have been a fundamental part of village administration since times prehistoric yet not much is known about the status, structure, force, capacities and accounts of panchayats in ancient India. The activity of decentralized arrangement of local self-government was a brain child of Gandhi, which received a strong shape in the post- independence period. In the process of the framing of the constitution and setting up of plans in India, certain choices had been made between the needs of national unity, national security and economic growth on the one hand, and the consideration of achieving measures of distributive justice, on the other. This was undertaken so that maximum benefits of development reached to the people at the grass-root level and people could participate in the course of planning and development at different levels. In the initial years, the decision was made on the side of rapid planning and growth and, therefore, decision-making remained centralized in two political levels, viz. the Union and the State. Local bodies mostly functioned as civic agencies of the state government and did not do much in the grassroots level with regard to planning and decision-making.

 The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act was passed by the Parliament in 1993. The amendment provided  a  Constitutional  status to  the  PRIs  in  India  and  didn‟t  leave  prudence  with the  State government in several matters relating to these institutions. Before this Amendment was made effective, Article 40 of the Constitution provided an order to the administration to find a way to arrange village Panchayats and give them with the power and authority which empower them to assume responsibility for nearby issues. However, by mid-eighties original constitution(Act regards Panchayati Raj Institution) whose directive was not sufficient to institutionalize Panchayati Raj in India.

It was seen that because the political force was in the hands of socially and economically powerful people, the poor people hardly had any role in the decision-making process. Likewise, women also faced similar challenges where their percentage of representation in the Parliament stayed between 4 to 7 percent after independence. The political policy makers then began to think in terms of Amendment to the Constitution to empower the people in the rural areas, more particularly the women, and give a Constitutional status to the PRI and to bring about uniformity of participation in the entire country. The Constitutional Amendment Act was passed in the year 1993 and likewise the State governments were required to enact revised Panchayati Raj Acts which was according to the arrangements of the amended Constitution. Articles 243, 243A to 243-O were included as parts of recently inserted Part IX of the Constitution. According to this, there was a new inclusion at the mediator level as known as Block Panchayat/ Panchayat Samiti/ Taluka Panchayat which was to be headed by the President known as Sabhapati. The area district level Panchayat as known as the Zilla Parishad/ Zilla Panchayat heads by Sabhapati and at the Gram Panchayat level there was the establishment of Gram Sabha. The electorates at Gram Panchayat level had been named as the Gram Sabha, which chooses the representatives for Gram Panchayat by people. Further, Article 243D accommodated reservation of seats at all levels for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and women. While the reservation for the SCs/STs is an actual proportion to the population of the concerned area, it isn‟t the case with women as 33% of the total seats in all the tiers will be reserved for them

Sikkim Panchayti Act, 1965 

With the objective of good village administration, implementation of developmental programs, ensuring participation of all communities of the village level, Sikkim Panchayat Act, 1965 came into existence by notification in Sikkim Darbar Gazette (extra ordinary) vide dated December 24, 196531. Sikkim Panchayat Act, 1965 is a non-hierarchical single tier panchayat with block panchayat at the village level. In fact, it was the first attempt to establish Panchayati Raj Institution in Sikkim. A total of 215 Gram Panchayat units comprise of the then existing revenue blocks were constituted under this Act with three years term. Only persons paying the tax viz. land revenue or local taxes to the Government or for the landed property or house owned in his name and attaining an age of 21 years were eligible to be the voters vis-a-vis an eligible contestant in the panchayat election.

A lot of anomalies were observed in the Act particularly when Sikkim became one of the States of Indian Union. As per Asoka Mehta committee report in 1978, the Panchayati Raj system was modified and streamlined in the state with the enactment of Sikkim Panchayat Act, 1982 which remain effective till 1993 except for a few amendments:

The Sikkim Panchayat Act, 1965 had a wide range of functions numbering sixteen which can be grouped in three categories viz. (i) development (ii) welfare and (iii) agency. Under the developmental category the functions included were- (a) planned improvement of agriculture, establishment and management of model agricultural farms, crop experiments to secure minimum standard of cultivation, construction of compost pits (b) promotion of dairy farming, poultry, piggery, improvement of cattle and cattle breeding (c) soil conservation, tree plantation, embankment against floods, petty irrigation works (d) co-operative development, promotion of cottage industries etc. Under the welfare the functions were- (a) construction of public latrine, health, hygiene and conservancy (b) maternity and child welfare (c) construction maintenance and repair of school buildings (d) taking preventive measure against epidemic (e) maintenance of burial ground and burning ghats (f) maintenance of civil amenities like water supply, construction of approach road etc.

Under the agency the function includes (a) organization of community programme for soil conservation, planting etc. (b) any other matter referred by the District Officer.

The concept of Panchayati Raj isn‟t new in India. Local self-government which is likewise called third level of government where people are legitimately associated with decision making procedure. It is a kind of concept which was even mentioned in Rig-Veda. There were several committees prior to 1992 for framing the establishments of Panchayat for example, the Ashok Metha committee, Balawantharai Metha committee and L.N. Singhvi committee and so on. Government of India passed a historical 73rd Amendment Act in the year 1992 which came into force on 24th April, 1993. Part IX in the constitution included the complete panchayati raj framework in the nation. Sikkim has its unique history of development of Panhcayati Raj Institute unlike the other states of the country. Being a sovereign nation till 1975, Sikkim had by altogether a different picture for the beginning of PRI before its merger to the Union of India and also owing its own recognized features. The scenario changed step by step after its merger and joining national Indian mainstream.

By Bernes Gurung